A military coup, by definition, is when an existing government is violently overthrown by the armed forces. This is commonly executed to create a sense of panic especially at a time when the governance is overtly meager and the management openly corrupt.

In Pakistan’s history, ironically, it has always been the politicians themselves who have created the space for military overture. In 1958, the first Pakistani President Major General Iskander Mirza dismissed Prime Minister Feroz Khan and appointed Ayub Khan. This initiated Pakistan’s long standing history of politicians being jailed or exiled by militants.

Since Pakistan’s independence, it has constantly been challenged in reference to its political regimen. This was made even worse when Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan died merely a few months after Pakistan’s creation. The autonomous part of the subcontinent was unstable and required a sense of maturity from the policy makers. Pakistan was ruled extemporarily making it stagnant.

Here is a brief snapshot of Pakistan’s 4 Military Coups:

Ayub Khan

Ayub Khan fortified the industrial market of Pakistan. Through the implementation of technical advancements, he ensured a harmonious understanding between US and Pakistan leading to financial and military aid. This was a time when Pakistan was under Martial Law and all political parties had been barred. Because of his approach, he was able to restore the unstable economy of Pakistan by 1961.

It was during this time that he lifted the Martial law off the country to restore political activity thus lifting the ban as well. He also made redundant the 1956 constitution. All the while Bangladesh claimed it was left weak and open for an Indian attack. Several protests lead to innumerable deaths. These eventually forced masses of students to start a movement. As political parties like PPP and NAP joined in, the movement gained momentum and in just a few months was spread all across the country.

Unable to cater to the protests and make peace with the parties, Ayub resigned and was forced to hand power over to General Yahya Khan. This lead to the imposition of another Martial Law which eventually caused a civil war between War torn Bangladesh and India. Sensing the increasing tension and political unrest, a group of militants, influenced gravely by Bhutto also forced Yahya to resign.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

In 1971 Bhutto came into power after winning maximum seats in West Pakistan. Through his rationalization he gained popularity over the next 3 years of his rule. However, his contemporary approach was seen as a threat by several Islamists in the country often leaving him in troubled waters.

Bhutto was blamed for turning Pakistan into a land of sin. Unable to cater to the increasing protests, Bhutto ordered the army to step in commanding long regulations. His control went so far as to the army opening fire at a group of civilians under Bhutto’s orders, taking many innocent lives. Despite the violent approach, and unable to counter the protests, a third Martial Law was imposed on the country by General Zia-ul-Haq.

Bhutto was forcefully arrested and in 1979 taken to court by Zia. After a long standing trial he was sentenced to death for the murder of the civilians and hanged.


Zia coming into power, in no way marked the last of military coups in the country. Like several others before him, his dictatorship began in 1977, right after the imposition of Martial Law. Zia struggled to counter the economic policies introduced by Bhutto with the assistance of US and Saudi aid. Despite the gradual revival of the economy Zia continued to be in an unstable position from 1981 to 1983. Though the economy seemed to have flourished under his rule, the utilitarian corruption was on a new high. Zia brought in an irrepressible rupture of religiosity amongst the middle class.

Driven by revenge and the increasing discomfort because of Zia’s repressive religious policies, 28 year old Benazir Bhutto began a movement to overthrow the militant. Despite its gradual increase the movement gained impetus across Punjab and Sindh. For the next two years it continued to make feeble Zia’s position in the political administration. A scandalous plane crash in 1988 led to Zia to fall from grace. This restored democracy in Pakistan.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf was able to execute an infamous coup d’état against Nawaz Sharif in 1999. Musharraf was welcomed by the masses who were tired of economic fluxes and political wars between PML-N and PPP. He was able to make Pakistan an ally post the 9-11 panic and chaos that stirred the relationship between US and Pakistan.

By 2002 Musharraf had initiated an embargo on various extremist organizations. This continued for 4 years and gained him the label of being a liberal ruler. However, his liberalism triggered the emotions of the extremist parties and began the incredibly chaotic string of suicide bombings.

By 2006 Musharraf had also terminated the very single-minded Supreme Court Judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry. Following into Bhutto’s footsteps, a movement began against Musharraf lead majorly by the urbanized middle class. To pacify the movement, Musharraf allowed two infamously exiled politicians to return to the country: Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.

Having returned to their land, Bhutto was assassinated in 2007, triggering the emotions of the masses furthermore. Her husband, Zardari and Nawaz led a movement and eventually won the 2008 elections forcing Musharraf to resign not only as president but as Army Chief as well.

Pellucidity and liability have always been the root of a well-governed state – both aspects in which Pakistan has struggled since its creation. Openness has always only been displayed by politicians at times to terrorize rivals. Though Pakistan can no longer be called a quintessentially “new” state, it continues to strive under the panic and threat of military coups that are anticipated to continue.


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